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Abortion: Right or Wrong?
Abortion. The very word stirs up controversy- thoughts of clashing protesters, emotional decisions, and political conflict. Everyone has heard the slogans and sound bites. Some people have strong beliefs about whether abortion should be available on demand. Others feel caught between the warring factions of “right to life” and “a woman’s choice.” But what happens when we strip away the rhetoric?
There are people who have been where the news cameras never go- in the procedure rooms and pathology labs behind the closed doors of abortion clinics. Reading what these doctors have to say is the closest we can come to truly understanding abortion.
Surgical abortion in the first trimester is done by a procedure called Suction Dilation & Curettage. This is how Planned Parenthood, a pro-choice organization and the biggest abortion provider in the country, describes this procedure on its website:
“Either a hand-held suction device (MVA) or a suction machine (D&C) gently empties the uterus. A separate curette may be used to help remove the tissue that lines the uterus.”(1)
A uterus ‘gently emptied’ of ‘tissue.’ Who could be against such a simple procedure? But abortion providers know that the reality is very different.
Former abortionist Dr. David Brewer witnessed his first abortion when he was in medical school. This is how he describes the experience:
“I can remember…the resident doctor sitting down, putting the tube in, and removing the contents [suctioning them into a jar]…. My job afterwards was to go and undo the jar, and to see what was inside. I didn’t have any views on abortion; I was in a training program, and this was a brand new experience…. I opened the jar and took the little piece of stockingnette stocking and opened the little bag. The resident doctor said ‘Now put it on the blue towel and check it out. We want to see if we got it all.’ I thought, ‘that’ll be exciting-hands on experience looking at tissue.’ I opened the sock up and put it on the towel, and there were parts of a person in there. I had taken anatomy… I knew what I was looking at. There was a little scapula and an arm. I saw some ribs and a chest, and a little tiny head. I saw a piece of a leg, and a tiny hand and an arm…. Well, I checked it out and there were two arms and two legs and one head and so forth, and I turned and said “I guess you got it all.’ (2)
Abortionists often re-assemble the parts of the baby to make sure nothing is left inside the woman’s body. Any pieces left behind could cause an infection.
A medical student interning at Planned Parenthood also describes the ‘tissue’ from a ‘gently emptied’ uterus in the first trimester:
“I completely wasn’t expecting it, but there were fetal parts. Like hands. And legs. And kidneys. It was pretty shocking. But, of course, after the initial shock, I was fine. I was actually fascinated by it. Until I saw one with a face.” (3)
When arguing against abortion, many pro-choice people point to a newly conceived fertilized ovum or a collection of cells. How could such a thing be a person? Putting aside for a moment the debate as to whether life begins at conception, it is clear that the average abortion is performed on a fetus that has advanced far beyond the “ball of cells” stage.
Sue Hertz spent a year observing at one abortion clinic. She writes:
“It was easy to shrug off an aborted pregnancy as nothing more than a sack of blood and globs of tissue- as many pro-choice activists did, if one never saw fetal remains…” (4)
She then describes these remains:
“…an eleven-week-old [aborted baby] harbored tiny arms and legs with feet and toes. At twelve weeks, those tiny hands had tiny nails…pieces of face- a nose and mouth, or a black eye….were sometimes found in the aftermath.” (5)
Hertz also quoted abortion providers expressing frustration at the rhetoric of their pro-choice supporters. Although dedicated to providing abortions and promoting abortion rights, the clinic workers in Hertz’s book see the carnage of abortion first hand and know it is not something to take lightly.
Another doctor describes his experience:
“In my second year of residency I spent two months on a pathology rotation… and I had to come face-to-face with the contents of those sacks. We were studying the embryology of the ovary…The jumbled-up mass of tissue was easily identifiable as the torn and shredded body of a tiny human being… half of the aborted fetuses were males….” (6)
The doctor could tell the gender of the aborted child. Toward the end of the first trimester, female unborn children already have developing ovaries (and wombs) of their own.
What about later abortion? Abortions in the second trimester (and sometimes the third) are done in a variety of ways, but the most common is Dilation and Evacuation or D & E. In this type of abortion, the doctor inserts laminaria (sticks made of a seaweed compound) into the woman’s body. These slowly expand and open the cervix, the lower ‘neck’ of the womb. A few hours or a day later the woman comes in for the procedure. Planned Parenthood describes the operation as follows:
“The uterus is emptied with medical instruments and suction….”(7)
In reality, an abortionist uses forceps to literally tear the child apart. A D&E is described in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology:
“Of the various ways to perform an abortion after the midpoint of pregnancy, there is only one that never, ever results in live births….However, it is particularly stressful to medical personnel. That is because D&E requires literally cutting the fetus from the womb and, then, reassembling the parts, or at least keeping them all in view, to assure that the abortion is complete…”(8)
A doctor describes a D&E in plainer terms:
“You are doing a destructive process. Arms, legs, chests come out in the forceps. It’s not a sight for everybody.”(9)
Author Peter Korn, in his book Lovejoy: A Year in the Life of an Abortion Clinic, describes a D&E this way:
“Still holding the forceps, [abortionist] Lane begins pulling, tearing apart the fetus. The first three tugs yield indistinguishable tissue. The fourth brings out more solid mass, which [clinic worker] Anneke, from her position in the back of the small room, immediately recognizes as the trunk of a fetus…. Tiny hands and feet, extracted next, are the most recognizable…. The pieces of the fetus and the placenta are placed by Lane on a surgical tray at his side.” (10)
These ‘fetuses’ are in fact babies that are fully-formed when they are dismembered.
The carnage of a D & E takes an emotional toll on providers and horrifies observers. Many pro-lifers believe that if a television station would show the procedure (preferably at a time when children are unlikely to be watching television) people would flock to the pro-life movement in droves.
One observer describes a D&E:
“Time after time, the resident plunged the Bierer [forceps] into the woman’s womb, removing a leg, then an arm, then the liver, then the placenta, which the doctor ranted about, because this can make the fetal head extraction more difficult. The last step that I saw was the collapse of the skull and the removal of the brain matter.”(11)
And author B.D. Colen describes a D&E abortion he witnessed this way:
“After dilating, or opening, the cervix, the physician used a curette, the gynecological version of a sharpened spoon, to cut the fetus into pieces he would then remove with forceps. A large petri dish sat on an instrument stand to the right of the girl’s feet…from time to time during the procedure the physician would tap his forceps on the edge of the dish – and into the muck would drop a foot, or a hand, or a piece of rib cage.”(12)
He then goes on to say:
“Having seen what I saw, I cannot for a moment abide the disingenuousness of those who argue that a fetus is not human, or those who convince themselves that abortion is not killing…”(13)
Clinic workers are also often troubled by what they see.
In her book “Abortion at Work: Ideology and Practice in a Feminist Clinic” pro-choice author Wendy Simonds devotes a chapter to the emotional impact of abortion work on providers. A clinic worker is quoted explaining why abortions in the second trimester are so difficult to cope with:
“Because it looks like a baby. That’s what it looks like to me. You’ve never seen anything else that looks like that. The only other thing you’ve ever seen is a baby…You can see a face and hands and ears and eyes and, you know…feet and toes…(14)
Second trimester Dilation and Evacuation abortions are protected under Roe V. Wade. They cannot be restricted in any state for any reason. Why do women have abortions this late in pregnancy? According to the CDC, most women who have abortions at this stage are healthy mothers with healthy babies. In fact, less than ten percent of all second trimester abortions are performed on infants who are not healthy. (15) So what are the reasons? Some may be women who didn’t realize they were pregnant or who were unable to decide what to do about their pregnancies. Another group includes young women and teenagers who were able to deny and/or hide their pregnancies until they began to show. (16)
The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research organization founded by Planned Parenthood, conducted a study of women having abortions at various times in pregnancy.
The most common reasons are:
21% Woman can’t afford the baby
21% Unready for the responsibility
16% Concerned about how having a baby would affect their lives
Only 1% of abortions were done because the woman was a victim of rape or incest and only 6% were influenced by health concerns. (17)
Third trimester abortions account for only a small percentage of abortions performed in the United States. However, there are over 3500 abortions a day, and as many as 8,000 abortions in the third trimester in any given year. Most people are not aware that women can get an abortion in the third trimester for almost any reason. Roe Vs. Wade did stipulate that states could ban third trimester abortions unless a woman’s health was endangered by her pregnancy. However, in the Supreme Court case Doe Vs. Bolton, the concept of “health” was defined so broadly that it allows for almost any abortion. All a woman has to do is complete paperwork asserting that the abortion is detrimental to her mental health and she can have a late abortion in any state in the country.
Abortions at any stage take a toll on everyone involved- the mother, the father, the clinic workers, and the doctor. For example, one abortionist from Planned Parenthood discusses his ambivalence:
“This can burn you out very, very quickly…not so much by the physical labor as the emotional part of what’s going on. When you do an ultrasound, particularly if you have children, and you see a fetus there, kicking, moving, living, doing things that your own child does, bringing its thumb to its mouth, and things like that- it’s difficult. Then, after the procedure, sometimes we have to actually look at the specimen, and you see arms and legs and things like that torn off…It does take an emotional toll.”(18)
Faced with the reality of abortion, some doctors harden their hearts. As one abortionist is quoted saying:
“Abortions are very draining, exhausting, and heartrending….I’ve done a couple thousand … The only way I can do an abortion is to consider only the woman as my patient and block out the baby…”(19)
Others confront the evil of abortion and quit. Some of these doctors have become powerful voices in the pro-life movement. Dr. Paul E. Jarrett, Jr, stopped doing abortions. The turning point came when he began one abortion with suction, then switched to forceps after the baby’s foot became caught in the instruments:
“And as I brought out the rib cage, I looked and saw a tiny, beating heart. And when I found the head of the baby, I looked squarely into the face of another human being- a human being that I had just killed. I turned to the scrub nurse and said, “I’m sorry.” But I just knew that I couldn’t be part of abortion any more.(20)
When you began reading this article, you may not have known the reality of abortion. Now you do. What choice will you make? Will you harden your heart? Or will you resolve to oppose the killing of these babies? All people- abortionists, activists, ordinary people, you and I- may one day be held accountable for the choices we have made. What will you do?
For more quotes from abortion providers go to http://www.clinicquotes.com
1. Planned Parenthood Website
2. David Kuperlian and Mark Masters, “Pro-Choice 1990: Skeletons in the Closet” New Dimensions Magazine October 1990
3. From the blog “Never a Straight Answer” Thursday Jul 7, 2005 Entry: “I Love Uteri”http://gdeuce13.blogspot.com/2005/07/i-love-uteri.html
4. Sue Hertz Caught in the Crossfire: A Year on Abortion’s Front Line ( New York,: Prentice Hall Press, 1991) 104
6. Speech by Dr. McArthur Hill at “Meet the Abortion Providers” Convention. Can be found at http://www.priestsforlife.org/testimony/hill.htm
7. Planned Parenthood Website
8. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 1976 Sept 1, 126(1) 83-90.
9. Dr. William Thompson, quoted in Liz Jeffries and Rick Edmonds “Abortion: The Dreaded Complication”The Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 2, 1981.
10. Peter Korn. Lovejoy: A Year in the Life of an Abortion Clinic (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996) 235-236
11. Margaret A. Woodbury, “A Doctor’s Right to Choose” Salon Magazine July 24, 2002
12. D. Colen “A High, But Necessary, Toll” Newsday May 12, 1992
14. Wendy Simonds Abortion at Work: Ideology and Practice in a Feminist Clinic (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996) p 88
15. Dena Kleiman. “When Abortion Becomes Birth: A Dilemma of Medical Ethics Shaken by New Advances”New York Times Feb 15, 1984
17. “Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries” Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 24 (August 1998). The Alan Guttmacher Institute, “U.S. Women Who Obtain Abortions: Who and Why?” Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 4, (July/August 1988).
18. Abortionist Dr. Ed Jones (pseudonym) Nancy Dey. Abortion: Debating the Issue (New York: Enslow Publishing, 1995) 49
19. John Pekkanen. M.D.: Doctors Talk About Themselves (New York: Delcorte Press, 1988) 90-91
20. Nat Hentoff. “A Pro-Life Atheist Civil Libertarian” Free Inquiry Vol 21, Issue 4, Fall 2001, 16
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